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Monday, 11 December, 2017, 11 : 27 AM [IST]

‘We are looking at direct partnerships with the Indian travel trade’

With the newly-opened Shangri-la hotel Colombo, its Director of Sales & Marketing, Chris McFall, is looking at positioning the property as a preferred venue for MICE and group events in the Indian market with its large banqueting facility. In an interaction with Disha Shah Ghosh, McFall enlists how the property as part of the larger mixed-used development, is set to add new profile of guests to Sri Lanka’s emerging tourism industry.

For a nation which is rebuilding itself after nearly three decades of civil war, opening of a hospitality establishment with a 500-strong room inventory is like a shot in the arm for the travel & tourism sector. As one of the largest investors in the hospitality landscape of Sri Lanka, Hong Kong-based Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts signaled Colombo’s highly anticipated hospitality opening with the launch of Shangri-la hotel. The unique selling proposition of this property is its 1,580 sq mt pillar-less ballroom that has the capacity to cater to 1,500 pax in seated banquet and 2,500 pax in theatre style seating. Besides the main ballroom, the property’s Lotus Ballroom can cater to 400 guests for dinner and 600 for cocktails across an area of 470 sq mt. Another offering of this property are the 3 breakout rooms for meetings and group activities. With such banqueting facilities, the property can serve as an ideal venue for large and medium corporate events, destination weddings and group incentives. Shangri-la hotel Colombo also offers an outdoor venue on its 4th floor for social events. The lawn area with its rural set-up can be utilised for wedding nuptials and ramp walks, with a pavilion suspended over a oriental-inspired water feature. Moreover, the property offers serviced apartments with all modern day gadgets and facilities to cater to groups, corporate guests, as well as families.

Q What does Shangri-la Hotel Colombo bring to the hospitality landscape of Sri Lanka in general and Colombo city in particular?
Shangri-la Colombo is probably the most important luxury hospitality brand to have opened in Sri Lanka in 30 years, a symbol of development of tourism and economy of this country. It is part of multifaceted development, which includes a hotel, 2 large residential towers and the 4th tower as an office building, both in the development phases. All the buildings will be connected through a luxury shopping mall, which is scheduled to be opened by March-April 2019. The hotel is a part of the much large development, which is an icon for a new level of luxury and this is set to become the top luxury space in South Asia. We are the largest hotel by room inventory with over 500 suites and 41 apartments in Sri Lanka. The location of the hotel is of utmost importance as we have one of the most exquisite addresses on the Galle Face with uninterrupted view of the Indian Ocean. The property has the most luxurious room offerings in Sri Lanka, and the largest variety of higher room types, with 66 clubrooms, providing access to the Horizon Club Lounge on the top floor. These rooms also offer access to the lounge is 24 suites, including 3 specialty room and a presidential suite. The 41 apartments are suited for families and longer stay guests.

From a catering point of view, we have the largest ballroom in Sri Lanka and most of India with more than 17,000 sq ft of events space and a pillar-less ballroom with natural day light that can seat up to 14,00 pax for a dinner set-up. We have a junior ballroom that can seat up to 400 pax, with easy access and breakout rooms for meetings and convention services.

Q What strategy have you chalked out to tap the Indian market?
India is the number one source market for Sri Lanka, and the visitors coming here are largely corporate travellers, social events, weddings, weekend trips and family travel. Sri Lanka is within a couple of hour’s flight from India and our property is competitive from a price point of view.

We are investing a great deal of our pre-opening resources in promoting the property in India. The regional liaison office in New Delhi reaches out to the pan India market. They are helping us penetrate into the market, and build relationships from the leisure, business segments, along with weddings and event management companies. A sizeable portion of our pre-marketing spend will be allocated towards the digital side of promoting the hotel across the major social media platforms for India. We also have a PR agency for cultivating relationships and positioning the hotel. We travelled to India many times in the past few months and in 2018, we plan to be there every month.

Q What kind of engagements are you looking at with the travel trade in India?
We have a multi-pronged approach. We will be attending a number of big travel trade events across the year. Our regional liaison office will be connecting us and representing in the market. The leisure business from a contractual point of view to a large extend in Colombo is driven by the local DMCs, who have very strong relationships with most of the tour operators and travel agents. We will make sure we are very well aligned with them. We will also be looking for direct partnerships with the Indian travel trade, and the various opportunities of FIT travel,

groups and weddings business. Considering the size of the hotel, proximity to the airport, the ballroom facility, Shangri-la hotel Colombo is very well positioned as preferred hospitality address. We have already received several inquires some of which look very interesting. The partnership between the Taj Inner Circle and the Shangri-la Inner Circle loyalty programmes will only further help us gain access in the Indian market. Shangri-la hotel Colombo is the 101th property of the brand, and with direct flight connections with Indian cities, our major focus is on Bengaluru, Mumbai and Delhi.

Q How are you looking at competition from the established hospitality brands in Colombo?
Colombo is a competitive destination and is quite dynamic on various factors like minimum rates for all of the hotels. Sri Lanka went through a civil war for almost three decades, which ended only a few years ago. Tourism is recovering from that and since the end of the war, tourist numbers have been growing annually. Our mission is to bring new customers to Sri Lanka, luxury traveller, which some of the existing hotels maybe not targeting at this point. We are a strong player in China and the Far East, and will be bringing in new customers from these markets to Sri Lanka. Due to the size of our main ballroom, we are able to position Shangri-la hotel Colombo as the MICE focal point of South Asia. Colombo was never on the map of many big incentives, international conference because there was no ballroom to accommodate more than 500 pax. Due to the proximity of other partner hotels, we will work with them to attract large weddings and events for Colombo.

Q Which are your focused markets?
We divide our strategy into multiple areas and markets. We are targeting Western Europe for our property as connectivity with SriLankan Airlines and Gulf carriers make Sri Lanka an attractive market, and the country is yet to develop from a mass tourism view point. The recently launched direct flight from Melbourne to Colombo by SriLankan has generated an interest for Sri Lanka. Colombo was always seen as a stop-over destination, and we are trying to change that. In the short-haul markets, we see great opportunity to tap India, Middle East and South East Asia because of improved flight connections. Most of the expats and locals from these countries love to explore nearby destinations and it will be a great choice for them to select Shangri-la hotel Colombo.
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